October 16, 2012
How the ALCS Squads Were Built
Kevin Goldstein has moved on to a greener pasture, but we’re bringing back one of his postseason staples to illustrate how the four League Championship Series squads were built.
Classifying the Tigers proves to be hard. While many of their players are acquired from outside the organization, a few of those players have histories with Detroit. It’s fair to say no other team in the postseason acquires its stars in as many different ways as the Tigers.
The Tigers selected Avila, the son of their assistant general manager, in the fifth round. Any suspicions about nepotism faded after Avila’s patience and power led to a breakout 2011 season. Avila’s inability to hit left-handed pitching does create the need for a right-handed backup. Laird is right-handed, but the Tigers signed him for his defense despite plummeting caught-stealing rates.
Santiago and Infante are two of those roundabout homegrown products. Santiago came up in the Tigers system before heading to Seattle as part of a trade. After Seattle released Santiago, he came back to Detroit. Infante also grew up with the Tigers before leaving via trade. Nearly five years later, he returned in a deadline deal to solidify second base. Detroit acquired Peralta in 2010 for Giovanni Soto—who invariably confused Indians fans when they first heard the return. The Tigers popped Worth in the second round out of Pepperdine University. He’s got a slick glove and seems to be Santiago’s heir apparent.
Cabrera and Fielder are the cornerstones. In retrospect, the package of players Detroit sent to the Marlins for Cabrera wasn’t enough. None of Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Mike Rabelo had much of an impact for the Marlins. Cabrera, on the other hand, is arguably Detroit’s best player. During the winter, the Tigers gave Fielder a huge deal in order to form a one-two punch with Cabrera. So far, it’s working.
Berry is this year’s Jose Constanza. He entered the season as a minor-league journeyman, with stops in the Phillies, Padres, Mets, and Reds organizations. He latched onto the Tigers 25-man roster and turned a hot start into a postseason roster spot. Dirks took advantage of Brennan Boesch’s poor season and etched himself into Detroit’s lineup, too. He’s a former eighth-round pick. Garcia is a promising young player, albeit one whose original timeline called for another full season of development time. Then there’s Kelly, who the Tigers drafted in 2001 only to see him return in 2009 as a free agent.
Young and Jackson were acquired in trades of different magnitudes. The Twins parted with Young during August 2011 for Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros. Young has mostly disappointed with the Tigers, although that goes out the window when Detroit plays New York in the postseason. Jackson, on the other hand, came from a trade with New York, along with Phil Coke and Max Scherzer in the Curtis Granderson deal.
Verlander was the no. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft. He didn’t dominate at the collegiate level like you might have expected. Once the Tigers got him they altered his delivery a bit and he eventually learned the straight changeup, which is often credited for his breakout.
Outside of Verlander, the Tigers put together their rotation through a series of trades. Adding Fister last July appeared smart then, but looks like a masterstroke now. Sanchez came over along with Infante at the deadline to shore up weaknesses. Then there’s Scherzer, whose ups-and-downs saw him mostly up this season, as he had arguably the best year of his career. It’s hard to build a rotation through trades, but Dave Dombrowski has done a nice job at it.
Detroit marks Alburquerque’s third organization, as he previously pitched in the Cubs and Rockies systems. Benoit, Dotel, and Valverde were free-agent signings of various sizes. After a renaissance season with the Rays in 2010, Benoit happily accepted Detroit’s multi-year offer. Valverde signed a three-year, $23 million free-agent deal with the Tigers to man the ninth inning. Dotel continues his journey to play for every major-league team. He’s up to 13 now: both New York teams, Houston, Oakland, Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago (AL), Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Colorado, Toronto, St. Louis, and Detroit, of course. Coke was part of the Austin Jackson trade.
Porcello and Smyly were both drafted by the Tigers, but for different reasons. Despite being seen as one of the best recent high school arms, Porcello slipped to the Tigers thanks to signability concerns. His size and ability to throw two plus fastballs and potentially two plus breaking balls were supposed to make him a future front-of-the-rotation starter. He’s still only 23-years-old, so maybe there’s a chance for Porcello to make good on that promise. Smyly, on the other hand, was a polished collegiate who lasted until the second round because his stuff projected him to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.
New York Yankees
The Dodgers non-tendered Martin after he endured consecutive disappointing seasons. Martin landed on his feet with the Yankees, thereby shifting Jorge Posada off the position, and saw his offense perk up. The Canadian-born Martin is a free agent at season’s end, so it’ll be interesting to see how teams value him on the open market this time around. Stewart is the cliché backup catcher: a total catch-and-throw type who cannot hit. Brian Cashman parted with George Kontos to acquire Stewart right before the season started.
Cano and Nunez are products of the Yankees’ international efforts. The former rose through the ranks thanks to a lightning quick bat and sweet left-handed stroke. The latter is nowhere near Cano’s status, but makes for an okay utility infielder. The same goes for Nix, who bounced around to four different teams since 2008 before latching on with New York this season. Chavez is a former all-world third baseman who suffered through injury-plagued season after injury-plagued season. His return to contributive veteran is a nice story. Rodriguez came to New York via trade, and nearly cost the Yankees Cano in the process, but the Rangers chose Joaquin Arias instead.
Teixeira was a big-time free-agent signing. Originally a switch-hitter from Georgia Tech, Teixeira profiled as one of the game’s best pure hitters. He could hit for average and power alike, and took walks while playing sound defense at the cold corner. New York committed $180 million to him through the 2016 season, but he no longer hits for the average that he used to.
Gardner is the only homegrown outfielder on the roster. New York snatched him out of the College of Charleston in the third round. He was a small, speedy outfielder with the wherewithal to swipe bases and play good defense. Gardner had to prove he could hit at the higher levels, and the Yankees booted Melky Cabrera once he did. Rumor had it that the Yankees were considering Ibanez or Johnny Damon in the spring. New York chose Ibanez, supposedly for his defense, and Yankees fans are probably thrilled with the decision right now.
The starting outfield most days was put together through trades. Adding Granderson cost the Yankees Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke; Swisher cost Jeff Marquez, Wilson Betemit, and Jhonny Nunez; and Suzuki cost D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
Six years ago, people spent their days arguing about Hughes and Homer Bailey. Remember that? If not, you may have forgotten about Hughes hailing from a California high school and having all the makings of a front-of-the-rotation stud. Hughes had good velocity, location, and movement on his fastball to go with good secondary pitches, a good body, and good mechanics. In short, he was good. And looked like he would be even more good down the road. Alas, the daydreaming proved to be good for nothing, with Hughes failing to fulfill his potential.
New York drafted Pettitte in the 22nd round of the 1990 draft. Along the way he’s also spent time with the Astros and his family before returning this season. Both Sabathia and Kuroda were free-agent additions. Sabathia got the megadeal while Kuroda settled for a low-risk one-year deal. Kuroda is another interesting free-agent-to-be. Will teams overlook his age in favor of his recent performances?
New York claimed Eppley, a side-arming reliever, off waivers via the Rangers earlier in the season. Logan is another situational reliever. He came over in what Yankees fans now refer to as “The Boone Logan trade” but used to call “The Javier Vazquez trade.” The Indians released Lowe earlier in the season. He signed with the Yankees and has regularly pitched out of the bullpen for the first time since 2001. Rapada made 78 appearances from 2007-2011 while pitching with four different teams; he made 70 appearances this season as a left-handed specialist. Soriano received a monster three-year deal from the Yankees to serve as Mariano Rivera insurance. It seemed foolish at the time, but the Yankees’ gamble has paid off this season.
Chamberlain, Phelps, and Robertson are homegrown products. Oddly enough, all three are college arms that slipped in the draft for various reasons. Chamberlain came out of Nebraska with a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider. He slid due to injury issues. Phelps went to Notre Dame and dropped to the 14th round because he had more polish than stuff. Robertson came from Alabama and lasted until the 17th round. As a small righty with low-90s heat and a wipeout slider, Robertson had to show his stuff worked in pro ball. Constant struggles with command and control didn’t help his cause.